Let’s give a better deal to animals

Let’s give a better deal to animals

The court order banning parading of the tallest Kerala tusker Thechikottukavu Ramachandran during the Thrissur Pooram, as its age and infirmities provoked it to kill 13 people and other tuskers, was revoked when the elephant owners took a stand to refrain from parading other elephants too!

Suffering of the pachyderm and risks to the public not withstanding, the elephant was paraded with some precautionary measures. Ramachandran's case is just the tip of the ice-berg of the human-animal conflict.

Mankind has always used animals for convenience, comfort, food, religio-socio-cultural practices, defence, protection, entertainment and recreation. If mechanisation of warfare has partially eliminated animal use in wars, they now find use in research; if hunting them for trophies is a thing of the regal past, they are now poached for their body parts for medicines and other items.

Animal sacrifices and other inhuman practices are banned but parrots are caged by soothsayers, owls are despised as harbingers of ill-luck, slender lorises, near-extinct primates endemic to South India, are trapped for black magic. Worship and association of biological life with gods and goddesses, common in Hinduism, ironically leads to their torture, like force-feeding milk to snakes during Nagapanchami.

Unbridled development affects Ecological Carrying Capacity and blurs the boundary between animal and human habitats creating animal-human conflicts — animals intruding human settlements for food and water, attacking humans and humans killing them. This is a trend evident even in tourist places like Ooty and Coonor where the meek Indian bison and gaurs are getting violent.

Depleting water bodies, tree covers and increasing cellphone towers have driven our avian friends away. Carelessly disposed plastics, sharp items like needles, blades etc harm cattle and other animals foraging the trash. Even fish are not spared with plastic, effluents and trash trapping them.

Conviction statistics link animal cruelty to violence against humans. Apart from the moral issues associated with it, callouness towards biological life creates ecological imbalance. 

Humane treatment of animals defies a single definition because the concept differs from culture to culture and so do the laws, in intensity and scope. However, treating animals as non-living property is a broad criterion for cruelty. South African Animal Protection Laws cover farm and domestic animals, birds and reptiles under human control; Switzerland has the strictest animal laws in the world, regulating sizes of rabbit cages to the quantum of exercise to dogs! Japan has rules to keep animals and their suffering in experiments to the minimum.

While Bolivia is the first to ban animals in circuses, India in 2014 became the first Asian country banning animals in cosmetic testing and import of cosmetics using them. In 1998, India enacted Rules on Breeding and Experiments on Animals, while the 2013 Amendment bans the use of live animals in medical research. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, India, makes maiming, killing, torturing or poisoning of animals a cognisable offence under the IPC with fines and imprisonment.

Voluntary organisations like SPCA, PFA, etc do their share of service, yet barbaric sports like bull fights and sadistic instances like a group of teenaged boys burning puppies alive in Hyderabad and making a video of it in Hyderabad, a medical student in Chennai hurling a dog from the terrace not only jolt civilised minds but confirm that something more than legislation is needed to curb such atrocities.

Compassion for life, however small, should be ingrained in children from the beginning. Hobby classes and projects could include courses in ornithology, entomology, visits to animal farms etc.

Animal use in cultural, religious and customary practices could be symbolic. A Kerala temple that replaced live elephants with replicas in its festival is an example to follow. 

Responsible ownership of pets avoids problems as pets are long-term responsibilities. A family's time and space constraints should be gauged before going for a pet — big dogs in small flats are undesirable; pets don't fit into families on frequent transfers or with odd working hours. With 90% of Bengauru dogs being strays, make a beginning by adopting them.

Responsible social awareness on animal laws and remedial measures has to be raised. A well-informed public goes a long way in playing deterrent to animal crimes!